July 30, 2014
College football is the national pastime every Fall. However, college football is in a state of disarray. Star players are cashing in on their celebrity. Schools are rushing to build bigger and more luxurious venues for games. The media is out of control. And, worst of all, student athletes are dying from on-field injuries.
Am I describing college football today? No (-ish).
This was college football's early years, 1890 to 1915.
In The Opening Kickoff: The Tumultuous Birth of a Football Nation, released yesterday, Dave Revsine “tells the riveting story of the formative period of American football. It was a time that saw the game’s meteoric rise, fueled by overflow crowds, breathless newspaper coverage, and newfound superstars—including one of the most thrilling and mysterious the sport has ever seen. But it was also a period racked by physical brutality and controversy in academics, recruiting, and finances that, in combination, threatened football’s very existence.”
Mr. Revsine’s premise, which appears to be carefully researched and supported, is that the issues at the forefront today mirror the issues faced when college football emerged on the scene in the 1890s. Take the issue of amateurism, for example. Today, there is significant commentary and a lawsuit over the issue of student athletes being permitted to profit from their likeness and/or celebrity. As detailed by Mr. Revsine, though, this is not a new issue; players such as Michigan’s Willie Heston and Yale’s James Hogan earned a cut of tobacco sales during their playing days. (See a recent column by Richard Deitsch of Sports Illustrated.)
Also, today, there is an important focus on medical issues related to participation in college football. These concerns relate to in-game injuries, including concussions, as well as to the long-term effects of these injuries. Mr. Revsine reminds us that these severe medical concerns are not new; in fact, following 18 game-related deaths, in 1905 President Theodore Roosevelt intervened for the purpose of forcing colleges to reform the game ahead of the 1906 season.
The Bullard Edge has not yet read The Opening Kickoff, but plans to do so (as soon as it can purchase a copy; early sales are brisk). Based on excerpts and listening to Mr. Revsine discuss his book, we recommend that others also read it.
The Bullard Edge